IN her foreword to the White Paper, Theresa May declared it ought to deliver a “principled, practical Brexit” – if the EU showed “pragmatism and compromise”.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, it is unlikely to deliver anything except more pain. It blurs too many principles for Tory MPs, and is too impractical for Europe.

It says the UK should swap the deep links of the EU for a looser “association agreement” of a kind recently agreed between Brussels and Ukraine.

This would be founded upon economic and security partnerships.

As the European Parliament also favours an association, this sounds promising.

But the paper seeks to cherry-pick from the four freedoms of the single market – people, goods, services and capital – which the EU considers to be indivisible.

It also suggests a unique “facilitated customs arrangement” relying on non-existent IT that would be “phased” over an unknown period, and which would mean the UK policing EU borders.

Europe’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said he would analyse it in light of the European Commission’s existing guidelines – guidelines with which it is manifestly incompatible.

Pragmatism and principle are one thing; the White Paper requires the miraculous.

Its four chapters cover economic partnership, security partnership, other cooperation, and institutional arrangements. It is striking how much the government wants to stay the same.


Although it refers to the UK having the power, in theory, to diverge from EU pacts in future, it unsubtly points out how much this could hurt the country in practice.

On Economic Partnership, the UK proposes a “common rulebook” on goods and agrifoods. The goal is a free trade area that means the UK and EU maintain “frictionless access” to each other’s markets, protecting the complex, just-in time supply chains vital to UK industry that criss-cross the Channel.

But there would be “flexibility” for services, which account for 79 per cent of the UK economy. It admits the UK and EU would “not have current levels of access to each other’s markets”, ending the “passporting rights” which let UK financial firms sell products across the EU.

The Facilitated Customs Arrangement would see the UK collect both its own and EU tariffs on goods entering the country, a system that would rely heavily on “trusted trader” schemes to minimise checks. This should avoid a hard border in Ireland.

However the technology is not in place. “The UK is seeking to be at the edge of global customs policy,” the paper says, a virtual definition of IT hubris.

The UK would pay to stay in the European Medicines Agency, European Chemicals Agency, and the European Aviation Safety Agency.

Unrestricted freedom of movement would end, replaced by a “framework for mobility” based on reciprocal deals with the EU. This would allow firms to “move their talented people”, and UK and EU citizens to “travel freely without a visa for tourism and temporary business activity”.

The European Health Insurance Card would stay, students would still access cultural exchange programmes such as Erasmus+, and there would be reciprocal arrangements on on some social security benefits, helping UK pensioners who retired to the continental sun keep their pensions and healthcare.

There would also be cooperation and reciprocal deals on digital, broadcasting, aviation, road haulage, energy, rail, civil nuclear protection, a common rulebook on state aid, and “non-regression” on workers’ rights and environmental protections, meaning no loss of current standards.


On the Security Partnership, the government wants continued cooperation on fighting crime and terrorism, and on foreign policy and defence issues.

It wants the UK to continue sharing information with other EU states on airline passengers, criminal records, space technology, DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registrations. The UK says it is committed to membership of the European Convention on Human Rights and a new data regulation regime. It proposes working with the EU on asylum and illegal immigration, calling for a “comprehensive, whole route approach’” that reduces “incentives” to make “dangerous journeys to Europe”.


The chapter on Other Cooperation covers fishing.

The UK will leave the Common Fisheries Policy, under which UK vessels land around 90,000 tonnes caught in the waters of other EU nations each year, while the other EU nations land 760,000 tonnes caught in UK waters.

In future, there should be “annual negotiations on access to waters and fishing opportunities”, with the UK having a far stronger hand in the talks.


The Institutional Arrangements chapter is likely to inflame Brexiters most.

Rather than enjoying carefree autonomy, it says the UK should embed its new relationship with Brussels in a formal “governing

body” of UK and EU politicians, with “financial penalties” if deals are broken.

The chapter is also likely to inflame the SNP. It proposes “the UK Government will represent the interests of all parts of the UK” on the new body, with the views of the devolved administrations “taken into account”, but not necessarily binding.

Despite Mrs May promising an end to the remit of the European Court of Justice, the ECJ will also be involved in disputes on common rules. If the UK participated in EU bodies or agencies, besides paying a fee, it would also “respect the remit of the ECJ” in cases about those agencies’ decisions.

The paper is likely to result in an even softer Brexit or a shattering No Deal.